Say Anything… – Newsday

That `Ridgemont’ Dude Tries the Director’s Chair One way or another, writer Cameron Crowe’s career has been one big shoot-out at generation Gap. Now he’s the authority figure.

CAN A lifelong overachiever like Cameron Crowe ever get back in sync with his age group? “It’s my quest,” he says, but he has been alternately far ahead of and way behind his peers. Now, as the writer and first-time director of “Say Anything,” an $8.9-million film opening Friday, Crowe thinks he’s catching up.

At 31, the husky, lantern-jawed Crowe is as longhaired as many rock stars, and when he likes something, he says it’s “rocketing” or “smokin’.” If his name sounds familiar in the context of youth, it should. At 15, having skipped three high school grades in San Diego, Crowe was a wunderkind music journalist for Rolling Stone, doing knowledgeable and passionate profiles of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie. (He dropped out of California State University-San Diego after a professor of freshman English wanted to know how he could write for Rolling Stone himself.)

At 21, Crowe took a backward leap into the teen environment, writing “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” to explore the “Hey, dude” world he’d missed. “My original high school experience rocketed by,” he recalls.

Although Crowe says, “My dream was always to write about my age,” the success of his book and his screenplay for the 1982 movie based on it kept him concentrated on high-schoolers for Hollywood. When he recently turned back to the dating games of his own maturing generation for a script titled “Singles,” he was forced to do it through research. By then, he had been married for three years to the singer-guitarist Nancy Wilson of the rock group Heart. “That’s the problem of being backlogged a little bit,” says Crowe.

WHAT ACCOUNTS for the backlog is “Say Anything,” a project that consumed much of the past five years. Crowe still drives a 1980 Saab because he ran through his story-development money long before delivering the last of a series of drafts – preceded by a 90-page novella – to executive producer James L. Brooks. “He accused me once of avoiding writing by writing,” says Crowe. “It’s painfully true.”

“Say Anything” is about a brilliant 18-year-old Seattle “golden girl” named Diane Court, just out of high school as class valedictorian and bound for a prestigious biochemistry fellowship in England, and her unlikely summer lover, a solicitous but apparently aimless youth named Lloyd Dobler. Lloyd is, at the moment, a kickboxer. He is based on a young kickboxer Crowe met in his Santa Monica neighborhood. Crowe considers Lloyd “the realization” of the young character played by Christopher Penn in “The Wild Life,” the writer’s second and less triumphant screen story.

`THE GUY is perceived as being a mouth-breather,” says Crowe. “Guys like that are not smart, but they do have their instincts cooking for them and have a game plan and integrity.”

Crowe says of his latest youth story, “It’s a step forward, because I haven’t written a love relationship before.” Nor had he tackled writing about a woman in any depth. “Guys are easy for me,” says Crowe. “They crack me up. Girls have always been more of a mystery. I skipped so many grades in school that the girls were way out of reach. The girl I asked to the prom literally laughed at me and patted me on the head.”

Crowe was one of many journalists Brooks interviewed researching “Broadcast News”; in 1984 he presented an idea for a movie he wanted Crowe to write. “I was in New York,” said Brooks, “and I saw a beautiful girl with her father. There was something about the way they walked across the street, the way he guided her with a slight touch of her elbow and the way they looked at each other, that was inspiring. And I thought to myself, `What if that man was a crook?’ ”

In “Say Anything,” the doting and sheltering father is still a crook, but the added story of young love conquering all has overtaken the problems of coming to terms with adult imperfection. “Say Anything” now is a major sound track rock album, co-written and with one song performed by Nancy Wilson. The movie is being marketed to “the 18-to-24-year-old female,” one of the record’s producers says. On the poster, it’s “A Lloyd Meets Girl Story.”

Indeed, once Brooks decided to let Crowe direct the film, on the strength of an MTV profile he’d done on Tom Petty, Crowe had a tough time landing 22-year-old John Cusack as his Lloyd; after 11 movies, Cusack (“Sixteen Candles,” “The Sure Thing”) was tired of teen angst. “Man,” he protested, “I’ve played a 26-year-old. I had a wife. Let me grow up.”

John Mahoney, who co-starred with Cusack in “Eight Men Out,” helped talk the young actor into taking the role on the quality of Lloyd’s optimistic nonconformism. Mahoney was signed to play the father, who runs a nursing home, and came to the set bursting with ideas, but Cusack remained wary. “He still had to be brought along,” says Crowe. On a break from “Working Girl,” Cusack’s sister, Joan, did an uncredited cameo as Lloyd’s embittered sister. Ione Skye was cast as Diane because Crowe thought she had a cool, Seattle appearance. “It wasn’t that Southern California vixen ski-vacation girl,” Crowe said.

As a fledgling director, Crowe admitted, “The hardest part is realizing that you’re the authority figure. When I was a writer I would sit around with the actors and laugh at the authority figures, and one day it comes around and it’s you. It all comes down to concentrating on performance – which is hard when you’ve spent your whole career in a room by yourself.”

Crowe’s mission now is to get back into that isolated room and find thoughts about people his age in “Singles” that haven’t been presented in TV’s “thirtysomething.” “I have to finish it and give it to, I guess, Warner Brothers,” Crowe says. “It’s one of those labor of love things. It sends me back to the typewriter – and furthers my quest to stay even with my age group.”

Courtesy of Newsday –┬áMartin Kasindorf – April 9, 1989